COTTAGE GROVE – Ever wonder what’s going on inside that iconic butterfly building? Turns out there is even more than meets the eye.
Sitting across the street from Bohemia Park, the butterfly building is home to Bohemia Food Hub, a 3,500-square-foot commercial kitchen with a developed food truck court and retail grocery store. Since its inception, Bohemia Food Hub has been jump-starting new businesses and improving livelihoods within the community of Cottage Grove.
Kim Johnson, owner of Bohemia Food Hub, started the project ten years ago with the business Tsunami Sushi, which Johnson then turned into Real Life Foods, a company specializing in to-go meals that were often gluten-free. It was perfect timing, because gluten-free diets started to gain attention and popularity. Real Life Foods collard wraps were their specialty.
Johnson was operating the business with a friend out of her friend’s 400-square-foot kitchen, and when the company got large enough, Johnson took over and a bigger space was needed. Johnson purchased what is now Bohemia Food Hub in 2014, a 3,500-square-foot commercial kitchen to run Real Life Foods out of. However, she only used it a couple days a week, and the concept for Bohemia Food Hub was born.
“I started sharing the space with other food manufacturers that needed affordable kitchen space and we just grew this community that had built-in support around what it was to have a great food idea and take that idea and turn it into the business model they’re thinking of,” Johnson said.
Johnson soon realized she had created something very innovative, partially by accident. Johnson sold Real Life Foods in 2017 to focus on formalizing the Bohemia Food Hub Project. The business continued to advance naturally and she was able “to be a pioneer” for other small businesses that were coming into by sharing her space, she said.
“That’s the beauty of it. That’s why it’s evolved into what it is. It was at a slow pace … I wouldn’t have ever assumed that we needed a 3,500-square-foot commercial kitchen. I didn’t know there was such a demand for affordable kitchens … the fact that we were able to develop this slowly and steadily out of need has been really awesome,” Johnson said.
Bohemia Food Hub has been steadily growing over the last decade, and managed to survive the pandemic. Since its food trucks had already established their models as to-go food, they continued business with mild adjustments. Unlike many other food businesses, their food trucks at the hub had their best sales year ever during 2020 and 2021.
However, on the other side of the pandemic, they’re now feeling the effects of the inflated cost of food. Because of this, Johnson has had to “get creative” with her tenants, using her connections, resources, and opportunities for them to offset the cost of inflation in their business.
You might say getting creative has paid off — Bohemia Food Hub was recently awarded a $28,000 grant through the Oregon Community Foundation. A portion of this grant will be used to buy another food truck for youth programming. And the other portion will be used to professionalize the kitchen with equipment safety upgrades.
Bohemia Food Hub will also be using the funds to translate all of their signage and kitchen materials into Spanish due to the growing Latino population. “Creating multilingual seats in our kitchen is a top priority,” Johnson said.
Bohemia Food Hub has been moving in the direction of mission work by helping the Cottage Grove community, especially under-served groups, explore food business ideas at low risk.
With this direction in mind, Bohemia Food Hub was incorporated into a nonprofit last year. Now recognized at the federal level, Bohemia Food Hub can receive donations, federal grants, and have more resources to reach the people it seeks to serve.
“Food is one of the big factors that binds people together. If we can help people that are interested in doing so create a livelihood for themselves, it could revolutionize how we can help people … the empowerment that comes from people creating their own livelihoods – it’s got some magic to it,” Johnson said.
Bohemia Food Hub was also just awarded a grant called the Healthy Food Finance Initiative through USDA for $149,000. This money generated a cargo van and banded cold storage, so that Bohemia Food Hub can start growing operations that support local farmers and distribute it to places that need it. Johnson is very eager to get a farm-to-school system rolling.
To date, Bohemia Food Hub has supported the creation and success of more than 15 companies and only intends to create more.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if five years down the road you were to see a Bohemia Food Hub or Bohemia Food Hub products in many rural communities in Oregon and the country,” Johnson said.